Funk Grooves – Some Simple Starters

In this article we’re going to take a look at a couple classic funk grooves and discover how incredibly easy they are. Breaking down funk grooves and tunes in this way is very helpful for a number of reasons. First, it shows us that some of these grooves, while incredibly catchy and funky, are quite simple and basic at their core. Second, it shows that rhythmic precision and a strong sense of time are hugely important, especially considering that the chords are sometimes very easy. Thirdly, it can give you some ideas for how to compose your own tunes or funk grooves. And lastly, studying the grooves can give us a deeper understanding of the chords, progressions, and scales. Having a deeper understanding of these topics can help us generate ideas for soloing.

Funk Grooves: “Use Me”

“Use Me,” a classic funk tune by Bill Withers, is an incredibly easy tune to learn. What’s best is that the keyboard part (played on a clavinet) is a central hook of the song. (“Hook” is a term used in funk, pop, and rock music to describe a central recurring musical theme in a song, usually the chorus). This tune is based on only 2 chords – E minor 7 and A7, one measure apiece. That’s it. Back and forth between these two chords for the entire song. Check it out and listen closely.

Now, it’s important to note that there is no comping when playing these chords. Instead, these chords are outlined by way of a repetitive clavinet line.

Funky Grooves 1

But what is incredibly important is the groove – the idea of the rhythmic precision and interlocking relationship of the bass, drums, and clav. Here are a couple practice tips for nailing this funk groove.

  1. Practice slowly with a metronome;
  2. Increase your speed until you are able to play at 76 bpm (the record tempo);
  3. Play along with the original recording;
  4. Try to figure out some of the little variations that evolve in the clavinet part.

Funk Grooves: “Shake Your Body Down to the Ground”

Ok, let’s move onto something a little more challenging, yet still quite simple. “Shake Your Body Down To The Ground” is a funky tune by the Jackson 5. This tune is based on ONE chord. Yup. Whole tune. One chord. And yet, it’s a totally funky dance tune that makes you wanna move. Why? How? Well, the groove is awesome. So the key to practicing this one is to quickly learn the left hand and right hand parts (easy) and practice playing them hands together (a little harder). Check out the 2-bar groove.

Funky Grooves 2

Some good news: All of the notes above are white notes on the piano. The song basically stays on G7 the whole time (G mixolydian scale). The less good news: Lots of 16th notes. But don’t let 16th notes scare you. With some slow practice and counting, they’re the same as any subdivision. The key is go slowly.

If you want some specific instruction and demonstration, as well as some tips and tricks, check out our full video lessons discussing “Use Me” and “Shake Your Body.

author avatar
Willie President
Willie Myette is a pianist, serial entrepreneur and author of over a dozen books on piano and music education. He received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and graduated in under 4 years. Willie is the creator and president of online piano instruction sites Jazzedge® Academy, Jazz Piano Lessons and HomeSchool Piano.

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